Schools
 

Parents, alumni protest plan to halt admissions at McDonogh 35

Marta Jewson / The Lens

McDonogh 35 alumni and parents want Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. to open admissions to the school. Lewis\’s plan to phase out the school calls for no new students next year, including a ninth grade class.

A dozen McDonogh 35 Senior High School parents and alumni gathered Friday morning to demand Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. open enrollment for the historic high school.

“Save our school! Save our school!” they chanted as TV cameras rolled.

McDonogh 35 is the last traditional school in the city, and the district has a two-part plan to phase out the school one grade at a time and restart with a class of freshmen in the fall of 2019.

In a statement Friday, Orleans Parish School Board spokeswoman Dominique Ellis said the school won’t admit any new students for the next six months. It’s not clear what will happen after that. Ellis also said the district is in the final stages of hiring an executive director for the school for the next year.

The district had previously said no new students would be admitted at all, but a new privately operated school called McDonogh 35 would open in 2019. Lewis has tried to hand over the operations of the school, the first high school for African-Americans in the state, to a private operator for the last two years. But his attempts have failed so far.

The uncertainty worries parents like Trenise Pittman.

“You don’t have enough students to continue to get the funds to operate this building,” Pittman said outside the school Friday morning.

Pittman organized the protest, which followed a demand letter sent to Lewis, because a deadline for the city’s centralized enrollment system is in two weeks. She’s worried her daughter’s ninth-grade teachers will leave for other schools and academics and extracurriculars will suffer as enrollment decreases.

“Enrollment ends May 25th,” Pittman said. “So if we don’t say something now — that’s it.”

A plan for the city’s last traditional school

In February, the district announced it was seeking a private group to see the current students through graduation and another group to start a new school at the same time.

Lewis spoke at a closed-door alumni meeting where several attendees said they left with more questions than answers. Pittman said parents have received even less information.

At April’s school board meeting, Lewis told board members the district would run the school next year because no applicants met its expectations. It’s unclear whether the district will seek a private operator for the new school it plans to open in 2019. Lewis promised to provide an update in the fall.

McDonogh 35 will be the last traditional school in Orleans Parish. Of the three others, two are converting to charters and one is closing.

On Friday, the crowd shouted “Don’t phase us out! Don’t phase us out!”

Pittman said the uncertainty and lack of clarity about next year were frustrating.

Shedrick Roy was also at the corner of Senate Street and Cadillac Street Friday morning. He said his mother and grandmother graduated from McDonogh 35.

“It’s totally disrespectful for this 35 family to be in limbo, not knowing what’s going on with their institution,” he said.

Told of the district’s six month timeline, Pittman had one question: “Why?”

“What’s happening after the next six months? What’s the whole process? It’s too vague,” she said.

“It’s kind of like what you do with kids when you don’t want to explain yourself.”

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.